Art terms explained
In this glossary we’ve explained some common art terms, and plan to add more terms and more detail. Use the Website feedback page to suggest additional terms to be explained.
a term, associated with constructivism, that refers to the material and physical texture that reveals the practical dimensions of the work rather than its spiritual side.
the first important modern art movement of the 20th century, originating in France around 1904–05. The group of artists known as the Fauves ('wild beasts’) were attracted to non-realistic and primitive art and used intense, non-naturalistic colour. Henri Matisse (1869–1954), André Derain (1880–1954) and Maurice de Vlaminck (1876–1958) formed the group’s core.
French for 'falsely naïve’, the term is used to describe an artistic style that pretends to be childlike and unsophisticated. See also primitive.
the straightforward representation of something recognisable (such as the human figure or an object). Figurative art is sometimes called representational art. Abstract art is sometimes called non-figurative or non-representational art.
in photography, the sensitivity of a given film to light. The higher the number, the more sensitive or faster (and grainier) the film.
in photography, a coloured piece of glass or other transparent material used over the lens to emphasise, eliminate or change the colour or density of the entire scene or certain areas within a scene.
visual arts such as painting, sculpture, drawing that are distinguished from craft or decorative or applied arts by an emphasis on aesthetics rather than practicality and function. See also aesthetic.
in photography, the decrease in contrast caused by light being reflected off, instead of transmitted through, a lens surface.
lighting that produces very little contrast on the subject plus a minimum of shadows.
an international network of avant-garde artists established in the 1960s. Artists include Joseph Beuys (1921–1986), Nam June Paik (1932–2006).
the distance from a camera lens to the point where the image is in focus (focal point).
the part of a scene or area of space in a picture that appears to be nearest to the viewer.
a way of representing an object so that there is an illusion of depth, ie the object seems to thrust forward or go back into space.
a theoretical approach where an artwork’s value is judged solely on the way it is made (its structural elements, composition and techniques) rather than its content.
art made from things that exist already, often everyday manufactured products but also natural objects that are given a new identity as an artwork or part of an artwork.
in a general sense, it refers to a concern with the future. In art (often with a capital F), it also refers to a movement, originating in Italy in 1909, that was highly critical of the past and instead celebrated the modern world and a new form of art inspired by its mechanisation, speed and violence. Artists include Gino Severini (1883–1966), Umberto Boccioni (1882–1916), Giacomo Balla (1871–1958).